What I did today—first solo at 60 years old

Last April, one month before my 60th birthday, I began taking flight lessons. My family gave me the go ahead and my wife, Meredith, in particular made it possible for me to do this. It’s been an interesting experience.

So on this day, after a two month break from flight training due to an out of commission plane, I met with my instructor for another lesson. He said we would do a few touch and gos—probably to assess how much I remembered or forgot since my last lesson in September. He tried to encourage me by saying, “we can probably get you to solo… (enter a measure of nervousness here) before Christmas.”

So after we did our six touch and gos, including some OK landings and some not-so-OK ones, we taxied back toward the parking area when all of a sudden my instructor said, “I think you’re ready to solo.” Yikes! He’s got to be kidding. I felt the blood begin to drain from my body… I just hadn’t planned on this turn of events.

After some last minute instructions from my instructor, including an exhortation to not forget the “little things,” I found myself in the plane, alone, about an hour before sundown, taxiing toward runway 11 and talking with some stranger in the control tower. I’m not saying that my life passed before my eyes, but it was something like that.

Dave Earle solo
What a feeling—the first solo smile lasts a long time.

After holding short of runway 11 for some time, the guy in the control tower cleared me for takeoff, and I faced the reality that this was really happening. Thankfully, all the practice kind of kicked in. I managed to accelerate straight down the runway and then lifted off. At around 700 feet (still climbing), I began my loop back to where I would make my final approach and begin the dreaded landing procedure.

Then that same guy from the tower really messed things up. He got on the radio and said, “45904, extend your downwind leg and look for the (mumble… mumble).” It was a jet. A big jet. He wanted me to follow the incoming jet. Great. Now I didn’t just have to deal with the intricacies of doing my first landing without the instructor; I also would have to avoid wake turbulence from the jet and I would be extending my approach to—wherever.

Anyway, from somewhere in the crevices of my brain, I managed to pick out all those “little things” that I needed to remember to land this plane. I think I did an adequate job of “making my petitions known to God” at about this time.

The thing with landings is that they will happen one way or another, and probably sooner than later. So this was it, I was on a descent to runway 11 and at some point during this descent it occurred to me that there could be no mess-ups. After all, Thanksgiving was two days away and messing up now would definitely be bad form, not to mention that a mistake now would make for a really bad day.

Touching down was, well, less than OK, but I was rolling straight down the center of runway 11 and that was a really good feeling. I had made it—mostly intact—except for the possible long range negative effects of having about a gallon of adrenaline coursing through my veins for ten minutes. I survived.

Thank you Maine Aviation instructors: Adam for getting me started, Kelsey for good advice, and Pete for kicking me out of the nest. Thank you Lord for helping me to sharpen up my prayer life a bit. And Mik, thank you again for making a childhood dream possible. As Pete (my instructor) said to me, “you only solo for the first time once.” That’s what I did today.

30 Comments

  • Soloing and working toward that first license is the most fun you can have in flying. Enjoy every minute of it: the people, the places, the stories, the discoveries… Have a ball, birdman.

  • Congratulations! I think I know how you feel. I was only a few years younger when, at age 55, I was able to pursue my dream of flying, thanks also to a supportive spouse. I’m 70 now, healthy and still at it. I wish you good health and many happy years in the sky.

  • Learning keeps you young! I just passed my IFR checkride at age 66 and got my private at 56. Congrats on the successful solo!

  • Congrats on your accomplishment. Enjoyed reading your story. I’m looking forward to that day myself. Good luck with the rest of your journey.

  • Great story. Congratulations. My solo was at age 62 and did not get ticket until 65. Still flying my own plane at 76. Think being older helps with focus, especially with flying. Praise the Lord for being with both of us.

    • Yes, my solo was at the age of 60. I have not been able to take lessons for the last several years but I’m starting (at age 68) to plan for resuming those lessons soon.

  • Congratulation!
    I just got my Private Pilot license at 58- have done some amazing cross country flights after that including one from Missouri to California

    Enjoy

  • A day you will never forget! I still remember the taller than the mountains feeling I got as I completed my first solo…nearly 50 years ago. Keep the shiny side up!

  • The only regret I’ve ever experienced with aviation is: That I didn’t start sooner. I can’t think of a better regret.

    Welcome Dave.

  • Great True-To-Life story Dave. In 1943 when I was 9-10 years years old washing airplanes at Miller field on Staten Island (part of New York City), and received my first airplane ride, I knew I wante to be in the Aviation ‘World’….. became an Aeronautical Engineer graduating from RPI in 1955… a pilot in the Air Force flying Piper Cub, T-28, T-33, and B-47 aircraft… Mass. ANG flying T-33, F-84, and F-86H aircraft, and finally owning and flying a Cessna 182…. total of 50+ years of fun, challenges, excitement, and meeting some incredible people…now mentor, dialog, and share share soo many aviation topics with many youngsters and ‘oldsters’…. soo PLEASE do contact me an we WILL be able to do that! Joel/MrG

  • GREAT STORY, Dave!

    That must have been quite an experience. When I soloed at a small market airport (with a control tower), my instructor told the tower what was going on and they ‘cleared’ the airport til I was safely on the ground. When I taxied to the ramp, the tower congratulated me! Nice touch.

    I’m surprised that the tower where you soloed didn’t clear the area for you–perhaps he didn’t know it was your first solo, or perhaps there was a lot of traffic at the same time.

    You’ll have many, many more wonderful times in the air. Enjoy!

  • Good story Dave! Not sure you know about the Andy Griffith show, but Francis Bavier, “Aunt Bee” on the show, earned her private certificate in real life. In the last season of the show, they even created an episode about Aunt Bee taking flying lessons and soloing. She was in her 60’s at the time. It is titled “Aunt Bees Big Moment.”
    ” You are never too old to fly!” When she got nervous, her instructor told her, she can’t give up now, because she had already flown farther than Orville Wright. Opie told her on her first intro flight “Look out for The Red Baron!”

  • You are the “MAN “ Dave , don’t stop now , congratulations and GOOD LUCK.
    Like in the movie SULLY , at the beginning his instructor reminded him “Remember to always FLY the airplane.

  • Great job! Just got my PPL last year at age 59. I had some flight experience in my teens, with my dad as my instructor, but then life happened: college, marriage, 4 kids, etc. But at age 58 my wife gave me a ground school course for Christmas and said “You’ve always wanted to fly; go for it!” A great spouse is a wonderful blessing from the Lord! And I’m loving life aloft…

    • Similar experience, Steve. Back in 1975 I started lessons and did a home study course provided by Cessna for ground school. At one point, I said to my wife: “I can’t do this!” and slammed the book shut. She said: “Yes, you can! NOW OPEN THAT BOOK BACK UP!” I did, and less than a year later got my private.

  • It’s amazing what a wife can do for flying: She came to my FBO and bought 10 hours of dual and a logbook because she saw him often reading some kind of aviation-related magazine. Last I heard he was instructing in FlightSafety simulators after getting a bunch of ratings and ‘FBO-ing’ for a while.

  • I, too, remember my solo flight at age 62. It had been a goal of mine since being an elementary kid. Had a grass strip on our dairy farm till just entering high school. Life got in the way, but got my ticket snd still have good health at age 74. The day I soloed I thought maybe it would be the day, so I wore a special t-shirt with a Bald Eagle and a pair of modern fighter jets on the back. Of course the shirttail got cut off, and I didn’t have to say anything when I arrived home. My wife could tell from my grin and she said “you soloed today didn’t you!” Great memory!!!

  • Congrats. I waited a little longer. I was 62 -70 now. I am very glad I got my ticket… the only regret was that I wasn’t able to do it sooner.

  • Have my own plane and 4 kids and 13 grandkids spread across south eastern Australia…. the motivation(if I need any) to be able to visit them all within about 3 hours by plane. Just 60 myself and have been flying for 3 years. Best part my wife loves it as well…might be the getting to see the grandchildren!

  • Congratulations! I turned 62 earlier this year and am planning to begin flight training by the end of this year or beginning of 2021.

  • Too cool! I bought my first airplane last year and learned how to fly in it. I am 61 and it took me an entire year to solo. When my instructor, Dave Ward in Mcpherson, KS, told me to let him out at the end of the runway and gave me a few final instructions, I thought I would pass out. Dave stayed at the end of the runway and watched me take off and land 3 times. Each time I landed he was right there watching and pumping his fists in the air. I don’t know who was happier, me or Dave. Thank you Dave.

  • Dave, as we say in the Navy, Bravo Zulu (Well Done)! 76 year-old pilot here and still flying. After earning your PPL, you will have great fun taking family and friends up for a ride. Best of luck in your flying endeavors. And thank you for your heart-warming story.

  • Good job! Got my PPL at 57, bought my own plane 3 years later. Now 65 & still loving it, working on further ratings so I can be a CFI when I retire from the day job. Never too late to chase your dream, as you have found. Keep on flying & enjoy every minute!

  • It is gratifying to read that so many seniors pursued the dream. It took me many hours and several instructors to solo at age 63. The PPL and the instrument rating followed several years later.

    It was worth every dollar spent.

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